Skip to main content

The Segway-Esperanto connection

Robert L. Read's picture

Today I read in the Austin paper the following quote by James Norrod, the CEO of the company that makes the Segway, the two-wheeled personal transport:

"Market development happnes as a function of finding one market that works really well and building your business from here."

This is precisely the strategy expressed in "Crossing the Chasm", and is now pretty much now convenetional wisdom in marketing theory.

This is why I think the Esperanto market needs to try to focus ona single subculture and try to make great inroads into that subculture.

The Segway and Esperanto have a lot in common. Both:

1) were invented by geniuses operating more or less alone,
2) have been oversold and accused of being oversold,
3) have not lived up to the hopes people initially had for them,
4) have been so successful that they are here to stay,
5) are attacked by people who exagerate there purpose, imagining either that they replace walking or all national languages.

Moreover, both are examples of the "Net Effect". Their value to each individual depends strongly on the number of people who use them. In the case of Esperanto, it is clear that the more people speak it, the more valuable it is to each speaker. In the case of the Segway, each purchase both makes it more acceptable and in the long term leads to a lower price through more mass production.

The Segway is hoping to establish itself in the market of law enforcement, where it has a significant advantages: it can go inside and outside easily, it can go on elevators, and it allows the office to see above a crowd by elevating an extra head above pedestrians, and finally at 12.5 mph it lets them cover a greater distance than they can on foot, while still going inside where bicycles are unwelcome.

What is the best market for Esperanto to focus on?

by Robert L. Read


Middle Schoolers

kavaliro's picture

To me, it seems that the most productive way to promote esperanto is to get it into schools as an elective in Jr. high schools. Convincing schools that teaching Esperanto is a good thing seems to be the problem, but it's not. I've heard of magnet schools and gifted programs teaching esperanto, and some schools would consider the idea based on that alone. The problem is, we don't have a curriculum that's too good to refuse.

Consider the textbook:
(In no real order)
1. A textbook needs to be something near 50% pictures. School is boring. Kids daydream. They need the pictures to give them something to focus on. It's rather like the need for whitespace on a resume. Visual appeal is extremely important.
2. It needs to be written for the age level and reading level of the target student. If the vocabulary is too hard, the child spends more energy understanding the wording and less absorbing the data. Save the complex, wordy explanations for the margins, if at all.
3. It needs a solid progression from the basics through to course completion. Esperanto- Learning and Using the International Language and TY Esperanto both do well at this.
4. It needs anectdotes and stories to read that interest the age level of the student. Esperanto has a huge amount of material, both poetry and stories. Unfortunately, most of it is in copyright limbo, and not collected and organized in a very useful way. Don't get me wrong, it's there and somewhat organized, just not in a way that suits this purpose.
5. Hardback. Kids are rough. They need books that are tough. Nothing about my college experience upset me worse than cheesy textbooks that weren't even hardcover.

But there are more requirements that just a good textbook. Teachers like to have Teacher's books that expound on the material. While not strictly necessary, having a Teacher's Guide would go a long way toward acceptance. Workbooks are a must. Hey, teachers like giving homework. If you have workbooks, you need answer keys. The good news is, those are supposed to be softcover books.
Multimedia materials can be gleaned. Internacia Televido is a good source. But it's still an issue that needs to be addressed.

This turned into a long post pretty quick. In short, we need to target schools and we aren't offering what schools need. Just my two cents.

August 21, 2006 by kavaliro, 10 years 30 weeks ago

Yo-yo players

Shawn Fumo's picture

When talking about groups that could be receptive to esperanto, one to consider might be yo-yo players. It's something I've wanted to pursue, but haven't as of yet (mostly due to time/shyness).

It is an interesting hobby/sport since, it encompasses a wide range of ages (though a median of teens). It is also very world-wide, with some of the main hotspots being the USA, Japan, and Brazil. Also people in the Czech Republic, Poland, Hong Kong, Singapore, Korea, UK, Canada, and some other places. I frequently talk to someone in Qatar and a group in Russia just posted a video the other day.

Of course, things work out mostly Ok at the moment. Usually at least one person in each community knows enough english to talk about what's going on over there. Also, you can often learn tricks purely through visual means (either video online or in person), but language does still cause issues. For instance at the World Yo-yo Contest, sometimes people will still clump together a bit by language. Not as bad as in most communities, but it is there a bit..

Check out this video to see how countries came together at last year's Worlds (showing stuff besides the actual competition).

Or individual countries:
People in california
Hong Kong

Those were just a couple of videos that have flash versions online so you don't have to download anything. Many thousands of videos online...

Anyway.. it is just a thought. A relatively small group of people across countries that tends to be somewhat young and open-minded, and that doesn't have any agenda except to be good yo-yoers. :) There are probably other groups out there like this, too, though I'm happy to be a part of this particular one...

Maybe one year, a table or workshop could be set up at Worlds (is usually in Orlando, Florida). They've had workshops for various other things besides yo-yoing before. I'm just way too rusty with my esperanto (and not a good speaker) to pull it off on my own..


June 6, 2006 by Shawn Fumo, 10 years 41 weeks ago


limako's picture

One subculture we might want to consider is "bloggers". As I posted about recently, blogpostings are only about 1/4 in English now and the percentage keeps dropping. They also represent a kind of cultural avante garde and are likely to be increasingly important in swaying the opinions of others.


May 31, 2006 by limako, 10 years 42 weeks ago

Yes, but....

Robert L. Read's picture

That's an interesting idea (to focus on bloggers) but when I try to think about how to accomplish it....nothing happens.

Here's the closest thing to a genuine idea that I can do: Somehow pick a blogger who is 1) popular, 2) would appeal to an international audience, 3) is willing to give us permission to translate his or her works, 4) is willing to publicize the fact that everything he or she blogs is available in Esperanto (and publish a link.)

Then, we get a hard-working team of people, and translate everything blogged within 24 hours (and maybe some of the comments.)

Now, on the positive side, maybe this would give that blogger a huge audience--if so, that would make news. At a minimum, I assume the blogger in question, and perhaps his or her reader, would observe that Esperanto exists.

However, if we're going to put that much energy into it, why not put that into translating the work of Cory Doctorrow, a science fiction writer (and a good one, I've read two or three of his stories) who published everything under a create commons license. One might argue similarly that the same energy ought to go into Wikipedia (as gxeremio argued in a blog post previously.)

In an ideal world, we try this idea, (or whatever you can come up with) and see if it made a big splash or not.

-- Robert L. Read
read &t robertlread point net
Austin, TX, USA

June 1, 2006 by Robert L. Read, 10 years 41 weeks ago

Esperanto Day

limako's picture

Last year, people had the idea of having a "blog day". (They chose "3108" (August 31), because it looks like "blog" in 'leet speak.) The idea was to create a posting that recommended 5 blogs you didn't usually read from other countries and areas of interest. It was an idea that caught fire among the blogging community. Here is this year's blog day site.

I think we can do the same thing around Esperanto and the language problem. We can identify a day as "Esperanto Day" (Dec 15th?) and get people to sign up to have a bi-lingual posting on that day (in their native language and in Esperanto) to discuss their perception of the "language problem".

To support it, we would need to come up with a catchy name, build some pages that describe how the day works, let people sign up, and, eventually, to build a directory of all of the participating posts. It would be easy to get all of the Esperanto language bloggers to sign up, and then we could go after the rest of the world.

We could create some "web buttons" that people could use to put on their site and we could buy advertising (online at places like boingboing, technorati, etc), provide resource for people who wanted to try to do their own translation with a key, provide proofreading and/or translation services.


June 1, 2006 by limako, 10 years 41 weeks ago

Bonega! Mi subtenas gxin.

Robert L. Read's picture

-- Robert L. Read
read &t robertlread point net
Austin, TX, USA

June 2, 2006 by Robert L. Read, 10 years 41 weeks ago

Critical mass

filipo's picture

At some point in a subculture, Esperanto can take on a "critical mass" of awareness, whereby a minimum percentage in that subculture is aware of Esperanto at the front of their minds. At this point, seeds can be spread even without the help of Esperanto speakers. Critical mass is .. well .. critical, as in crucial. In countries where Esperanto is well-known, such as in parts of Eastern Europe, it is an easier "sell." This is because there is a critical mass.

In advertising, it has been said that it takes 6 advertising "hits" before a prospective consumer feels comfortable enough with a product to buy it. Even then, the product has to be socially acceptable. In Esperanto-land, one could be in a sub-culture and feel comfortable with the idea of the language, even if it was not common-knowledge in the general U.S.A. culture. Plus, the subculture has the added benefit to us that it is a selective, identifiable slice of the U.S.A. market.

Possible sub-cultures we might consider: science-fiction, Mensa, Bahai, Catholics, Writers, English (lit) teachers and students, Geography teachers and students, Language teachers and students, environmentalists, poets, scouts, amateur radio operators, computer nerds, etc. I'm not necessarily recommending these.. I'm just listing them for brainstorming.

It might not be a good idea to push a religion as a marketing target due to the claimed neutrality regarding religions, however, Bahai has international language as a goal, and Catholics use Latin for similar reasons.

I generally support a targeted approach to promotions, selecting prospects who think outside the box, have a yearn for languages, and/or want to connect internationally to other cultures.

At some point, our scout experts will wake up and realize that Scouts have a "Citizenship in the World" merit badge, and that Esperanto speakers would make wonderful counselors/advisors for that merit badge. One of the requirements for that badge has an option for the scout to learn a foreign language.

May 31, 2006 by filipo, 10 years 42 weeks ago

Targeting as individuals

J. Amis's picture

I strongly agree that we should, as individuals or small groups, work to promote Esperanto, or at least raise positive awareness of it, in groups/subcultures etc. that we are members of or are active in. This is something we can all do on an individual basis -- and on an individual level the concern about political or religious neutrality is not relevant. So I would encourage everyone to try (of course, the degree of success will greatly vary depending on the group -- you will find some groups to be fertile soil, while others turn out to be pavement...).

On the other hand, whom we target as an *organization* is an entirely different thing. As an organization, I don't think we should target any one group or subset of groups (such as bloggers/programmers/"nerds") exclusively. This could lead to even less diversity among our membership (and I think ELNA could stand to be a whole lot more diverse than it is). For example, we have no shortage of computer-oriented people (such as those mentioned above) among our membership already, which could make some other types of people feel marginalized. If we were to focus our promotional efforts mainly on computer-oriented people, we would run the risk of neglecting other groups, thus missing oportunities to increase our diversity.

So, as an organization we should not target any one group or tendency, but we SHOULD, however, encourage and even empower individual members to raise awareness of Esperanto in their respective groups or subcultures.

June 1, 2006 by J. Amis, 10 years 41 weeks ago

Find the Benefit for the Individual

rdmiller3's picture

I learned Esperanto because it appealed to me as an intellectual exercise. I thought it would be an interesting hobby. I only needed to hear about it and have access to learning materials. There was no answer (for me) to the question, "What will you use it for?" Maybe many Esperantists started out the same way, but this won't promote Esperanto.

Yes, tell individual people about Esperanto... but take some time to think beforehand. Which of the altruistic goals of the Esperanto movement would appeal to him or her? What might this person appreciate being able do better or easier with Esperanto? What new opportunities through Esperanto would appeal to them?

June 8, 2006 by rdmiller3, 10 years 40 weeks ago


limako's picture

Maybe we should have a blog entry or story on the front page where people can comment to talk about why they learned Esperanto... It would be interesting to see what people say.


June 8, 2006 by limako, 10 years 40 weeks ago

Re: The Segway-Esperanto connection

Ĝeraldino Vrajto's picture

>This is why I think the Esperanto market needs to try to focus on a
>single subculture and try to make great inroads into that subculture.

Hmmmm. This is an interesting idea. My one concern is that we be careful not to pick a subculture that is so small that even getting most of them into Esperanto doesn't increase the worldwide number of speakers or publicity.

Gxeraldino VRAJTO

May 30, 2006 by Ĝeraldino Vrajto, 10 years 42 weeks ago

Not just size

pbrewer's picture

There are lots of issues to consider besides whether the subculture selected is small. In fact, I think small would be fine, if they were influential opinion leaders of some sort.

For example, if you could convince hundreds of CEOs of multinational corporations to learn Esperanto, that could have a powerful ripple effect. Hundreds of new diplomat/esperantists would also be great. (Admitedly, neither of these seems very likely.)

On the other hand, recruiting even a large number of new esperantists from an already marginalized subculture doesn't seem likely to give us a big boost: a bunch of homeless esperantists doesn't seem likely to help. Ditto for meth addicts.

(I don't mean to say that we wouldn't accept new esperantists whereever we find them. But if we're deciding where to focus our effort, there are things to consider besides the target audience's size.)


May 30, 2006 by pbrewer, 10 years 42 weeks ago

Small would be OK by me...

Robert L. Read's picture

The fact that you can get 50,000 people to attend a football game but can't get 100 people at the national convention of ELNA is a continual disappointment to me.

Would I settle for making Esperanto known to a significant percentage of, for example, Latin teachers? Or Trekkies? Or fans of just one significant science fiction writer? Yes, I would; the only way to eat an elephant is one bite at a time.

I would love to recruit a powerful group like, for example, winners of the Nobel Prize. But part of the key must be that that the idea, or meme, gains because of the "net effect" within the subculture. So if a tiny group of people (say 1,000 to 10,000) relate to each other so strongly that each one knowing Esperanto makes it more likely that the others will learn Esperanto, then that would be a starting point. I doubt this is true of meth addicts and crack whores; it might be true of, for example, Trekkies, or the feminist fans of Ursula K. Le Guin, for example.

In fact, when it comes to recruiting celebrities, even minor celebrities like Ms Le Guin, I doubt we can do it except that they grow out of a subculture. One of the great things about Esperanto is that it appeals to the most intelligent and active people; but I think they must be recruited before they get too famous and busy. It would take a very strong soul indeed to say "I'm sorry, tell those guys from Newseek and Harvard that I'm too busy studying Esperanto to give them that interview right now."

-- Robert L. Read
read &t robertlread point net
Austin, TX, USA

June 1, 2006 by Robert L. Read, 10 years 41 weeks ago

Re: Not just size

Ĝeraldino Vrajto's picture

>There are lots of issues to consider besides whether the subculture
>selected is small. In fact, I think small would be fine, if they were
>influential opinion leaders of some sort.

I'm a newbie in the Esperanto community, so the only way I can look at this issue is by making an analogy with the effort to spread Christianity. If the analogy is valid, there are a few things that must be considered. Maybe they already have, but I am not aware of the answers.

1. Exactly what good does it do a person to learn Esperanto? Even if we already know the answer to this question, we still need to find a way to articulate it well to the target audience.

2. What good has it already done people who have learned it?

3. Support from a powerful, influential group can be a mixed blessing. If this group has ulterior motives of using your movement for furthering their own power, they might try to meddle in your business and corrupt your message.

Gxeraldino VRAJTO

May 31, 2006 by Ĝeraldino Vrajto, 10 years 42 weeks ago

Yes, that is why I favor a grass-roots approach...

Robert L. Read's picture

That is, I want a subculture to be conversant with Esperanto, but I don't want that to be mandated, I want it to be organic, from the bottom-up.

You ask good questions.

One of the most powerful advantages of learning Esperanto, if you will pardon me speaking indirectly, is one that as a married man I can't take advantage of.

But besides that, to me personally, Esperanto has made me feel that I have met other cultures half-way; has made me feel intellectual competent; has allowed me to read books and poetry that I would not have enjoyed as much or been able to read in English.

But the real reason I study and promote Esperanto is that I feel that it makes the world very, very slightly better everytime it is used. The progress of mankind depends on our ability to adopt so obviously sensible an idea; either we are the masters of our own fate and will make the choices necessary for us to explore the stars together in peace, or we won't. Esperanto is a bellweather of that choice.

-- Robert L. Read
read &t robertlread point net
Austin, TX, USA

June 1, 2006 by Robert L. Read, 10 years 41 weeks ago

Now we are getting somewhere

Ĝeraldino Vrajto's picture

So, it sounds like we are beginning to distill some messages we can use to draw people. What I got from your message was that:

1. Esperanto can help you meet chicks/dudes from other countries. This could be used almost anywhere young (and young at heart) people gather. Maybe Joel and Jenja would be willing to be "poster children" for us on a poster that says "We met through Esperanto" ;o)

2. Esperanto gives you access to literature that may not be available in English. This could be used anywhere bookworms assemble. We should make up a list of books (with plot descriptions) that we can promote as "not available in English". This could be combined with a book sales table.

3. Esperanto lets you communicate with people from other cultures and countries without having to learn a ton of foreign languages. For people who like to travel, the existence of the Pasporta Servo, which gives them a contact in the country they want to go to, might be attractive. Organizations which have members in many countries may also benefit from Esperanto. It wouldn't be necessary to convince the entire organization to adopt Esperanto as an official language of international commuinications. It would suffice to get individiuals within the organization to begin using it to talk to one another.

4. The argument "Esperanto makes the world better" might be a harder sell, because lots of movements make that claim. Maybe someone with advertising savvy can think about this one.

Gxeraldino VRAJTO

June 1, 2006 by Ĝeraldino Vrajto, 10 years 41 weeks ago

good ideas

russ's picture

1. Good idea. There are lots of international couples who met thanks to Esperanto. This ELNA webpage could have some stories about such people that curious visitors can easily find. (In fact it seems like the webpage could have more articles in general about personal experiences and benefits from learning Esperanto.)

2. Another cool idea. "Not available in English", I like that. I would also mention books like "Barefoot Gen" (autobiography about the WW2 nuclear bombing of Hiroshima), which I read in Esperanto because it felt somehow more appropriate to its subject than reading an English translation.

3. I feel like the travel argument is overplayed and a bit of an exaggeration. Pasporta Servo does not really offer a unique service when there are plenty of other similar services that connect hosts and guests. And of course for interactions with random waiters, cab drivers, etc, English is still going to be more useful than Esperanto almost anywhere in the world.

4. Agreed, "makes the world better" is too vague. But one can give concrete reasons. Point out the "uphill battle" problem when nonnative speakers try to talk English with us. Point out the financial unfairness that the US and England make so much money just teaching English because people feel they have no economic choice but to learn English. Point out the wasted money and time when organizations like the UN and EU try to translate documents into many languages as their rules require. Point out the economic benefits for businesses if they could market their product/service to everyone in the world without having to translate advertisements and manuals and websites into many languages.

Another point is the sheer joy of getting competent in another language more rapidly than with national languages. Esperanto is simply much faster to learn, and many (most?) Americans have never experienced becoming truly competent at a second language.

June 1, 2006 by russ, 10 years 41 weeks ago

The travel argument

kavaliro's picture

What you said is true, perhaps the Pasporta Servo gets overplayed, and there are other ways to connect hosts to guests. However, when you consider the enthusiasm of esperantists toward hosting guests, the Pasporta Servo really does give something that can be gotten nowhere else. Also, English is more useful for random encounters with waiters, cabbies, etc., but traveling in Esperanto isn't about those types of encounters, it's about culture immersion and maximizing the enjoyment and benefit of your travels. Since this is Esperanto-USA, I assume most of us already speak English, as well as those we wish to promote Esperanto to. So, discounting English because we already know it, what's the most useful second language? Esperanto, of course;)

August 21, 2006 by kavaliro, 10 years 30 weeks ago

About personal stories of meetings....

Robert L. Read's picture

We have a community-editable page devoted to personal stories already:

Anecdotes about learning and using...

which I believe Joel Amis and Ĵenja are both empowered to add to.
Also, Russ, if I am not mistaken, you might have a story to add. And I can think of others....

It would be good to have a list of books not available in English, or for which there is some obvious reason to prefer the Esperanto. Just for a start, here is my list:

1) Maskerado Ĉirkaŭ Morto/Masquerage around Death by Tivadar Schwartz (the father of George Soros.) This is avialable in English, but was originially written in Esperanto. Describes the Jewish family's experience in hiding in Hungary during World War II.

2) Sed Nur Fragmento by Trevor Steele. Not available in English. One of my favortie novels. It's original to Esperanto.

3) En barko senpilota by William Auld. (Includes the masterpiece "La Infana Raso". Auld's poetry is formally excellent, recalling Emily Dickinson, for example, and his wit is a little like Robert Frost, with some dark postmodern coloring. It could not be translated to English with the same power as the original, anymore than Dickinson could be translated to Esperanto.

4) Kumeŭaŭa, Filo de la Ĝangaolo is not available in English (although it has been translated from the original Esperanto to many other languages.) It's an excellent story for a pre-teen.

-- Robert L. Read
read &t robertlread point net
Austin, TX, USA

June 1, 2006 by Robert L. Read, 10 years 41 weeks ago

Ok, I added my story...

russ's picture

June 3, 2006 by russ, 10 years 41 weeks ago

Dankon! Tre interesa...

Robert L. Read's picture

Vi ne menciis ke vi gastigos la ELNA LK 2005.

-- Robert L. Read
read &t robertlread point net
Austin, TX, USA

June 3, 2006 by Robert L. Read, 10 years 41 weeks ago

Contact us / Kontaktu Nin

Contact Us / Kontaktu Nin:

Landa Kongreso * 2017 June 30 - July 3 * Annual Congress

EO Esperanto: La Landa Kongreso 2017 okazos en Raleigh, Nord-Karolino, Usono, 2017 ekde la 30-a de junio ĝis la 3-a de julio, 2017.
Por aliĝi, vidu: Aliĝilo

EN English: The Annual US Esperanto Congress 2017 will be in Raleigh, North Carolina, USA, Jun 30 - July 3, 2017.
To sign up, see: Registration

NASK * 2017 jul 4 - 13 * Summer Courses

EO Esperanto: La bonega kursaro NASK - Nord-Amerika Somera Kursaro okazos de la 4-a de Julio ĝis la 7-a de Julio ĉe Raleigh, Norda Karolino, ĉe la Universitato William Peace. Por vidi pli da detaloj aŭ aliĝi, kalketu ligilon NASK.

EN English: The excellent North American Esperanto Summer Courses (NASK), will be happening from July 4 to 13th, at William Peace University, in Raleigh, North Carolina. To see more details or sign up, click on NASK.


Which NASK is best for you?:

Current Bloggers

Premium Drupal Themes by Adaptivethemes